Windy City Suggestions
January 29, 2008 6:00 AM   Subscribe

What are some "can't miss" places to go and places to eat in Chicago? I'm taking someone who has never been in March and am trying to make sure they see the best of the city.

I know this is a pretty broad question, but I don't trust guidebooks. Apart from museums and whatnot I'm trying to stay away from tourist traps. Any suggestions on places to go and eat?

I'm already planning on:

Field Museum
Hancock Building
Green Mill Jazz Club(he's a big jazz/blues fan, heard that this was the best?)

Any suggestions and/or websites that would have some good ideas on where to go would be much appreciated. Thanks.
posted by Breo to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (33 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Places to eat:

Joy Yee Noodle House (the one in the "new" section of Chinatown) is my favorite Chinese/Asian restaurant anywhere -- I mean ANYWHERE. Be sure you get a fresh fruit drink, too!

Pizzeria Due is pretty fabulous. It is catty-corner from the original Uno's, just off Grand Ave. I know pizza is a contentious subject, but that is my favorite pizza in Chicago.

The Chicago Cultural Center has the world's largest extant Tiffany-glass domes, and they are beautiful and marvelous. What used to be Marshall Field's on State Street (think it is now Macy's?) also has some beautiful Tiffany work.

Navy Pier is a gigantic tourist trap, but the Ferris wheel is awesome on a clear day.

I will think some more :]
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:19 AM on January 29, 2008

Response by poster: Also, any good bar suggestions would be very welcome.
posted by Breo at 6:20 AM on January 29, 2008

For food suggestions, check out lthforum.
posted by mzurer at 6:23 AM on January 29, 2008

My wife and I were just there this past summer, and we had some very good meals. Two that jump out at me:

Portillo's Hot Dogs was a terriffic fun meal. Even if you don't like hot dogs, still go and eat there - they have a huge menu of lunchy bar food with a twist - That place alone made me wish I lived in Chicago so I could eat there all the time and try the whole menu.
Brunch at the Four Seasons was truly amazing. Well worth the cost: the selection was broad and uniformly delicious and the service totally impeccable.

Enjoy Chicago immensely, it's a truly fun city!
posted by BigLankyBastard at 6:35 AM on January 29, 2008

On the jazz end of things, the Green Mill is indeed a great venue. Depending on his leanings within the jazz sphere, I'd also consider the Velvet Lounge, which leans to the avant side of things.

posted by thedanimal at 6:44 AM on January 29, 2008

A steakhouse would be classic chicago. The gold standard is Gibson's in the viagra triagle, but there is also Morton's right there and Smith and Wollensky down by the river. I don't eat steak, so I can't personally vouch for their quality. Spiaggi is supposed to be the best Italian food. I'm not sure I agree but it is very good. Japonais is expensive Japanese, but very very very good.

Piece pizza is pretty good and out of the way, if you want to see a different, hipper neighborhood.

See if you can go watch the traders at the CBOT/CME (Chicago Board of Trade, they just merged with the CME). It's old fashioned trading floor madness, and they wear silly colored jackets. I'm not sure if they have a viewing area and I don't have time to search around right now, but if you look up CBOT pit trading on youtube you'll find some videos of it.

If you catch a nice day, rent some bikes or rollerblades and go up the lakeshore path from the Shedd to about Belmont and back. There are some little marinas, a place for rowers to pratice, and you get some cool views of the skyline and the lake as well as some exercise to work off the steaks!
posted by ohio at 6:53 AM on January 29, 2008

Bars? I'm old so forgive me.

I always liked the Rainbow, on Damen and Division.

Theres always The Hideout for aggressive new wavers.

If you like the blues Legends shouldn't be missed.
posted by Max Power at 6:57 AM on January 29, 2008

If you're going to be by the Hancock, I would HIGHLY recommend Bistro 110. I obsess on it on the basis of one dish alone (the Morel noodle dish), but it also has many other great dishes (the french onion soup is one of the better ones I've had). It is the best value fancy place I've been as well. Entree's are about 20 bucks (which is a fair piece, but not the most expensive around).

Speaking of the have a choice. You can spend a good chunk of change and go to the observation deck. Or you can go to the Signature Room Lounge (which is actually one floor higher) and spend that 12 bucks on a drink. The Lounge can be crowded depending upon the time of day, but I do go there a couple of times a year because of the view. For my money, the only reason to go to the observation deck is to go into the "Porch" area....basically a screened in room where you can feel the clouds go past and hear the traffic noise below and such.

For Blues/Jazz....I am not a fan, but my boss (who is) goes to Buddy Guy's Legends a lot.

Lincoln Park Zoo. The Best *Free* zoo in the nation. The Ape house is only a couple of years old.

If you like Odd....there's the Surgical Museum it has been a while since I've been there, but it was pretty neat in a dry...vaguely creepy sort of way. (they have this AMAZING old tool for removing tonsils that will give you nightmares.

And listen to what everyone above said too! There is really so much to see. We're (meaning all of Chicago) is looking forward to having you. Heh.
posted by Wink Ricketts at 7:01 AM on January 29, 2008

Lou Malnati's is pretty much the best pizza in chicago.
posted by Oktober at 7:02 AM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

A good bar? You want The Map Room.
posted by spec80 at 7:07 AM on January 29, 2008

I've always heard excellent things about Rick Bayless' Mexican restaurants.
posted by mmascolino at 7:20 AM on January 29, 2008

The Green Mill is great. The staff now asks people to keep it down during the sets, which helps with the crowd that isn't exactly there to listen quietly, but it can still be a bit noisy. Personally, I'd rather a historic jazz club have that problem rather than struggle to stay open. Get there early early for a seat near the front.

Here are the listings for other venues. The Reader's critic's picks would be a good thing to keep an eye on. They tend to favor Chicago's active avant-garde scene.

If you want the furthest thing from a touristy blues bar try Lee's Unleaded.

Definitely stop by the Jazz Record Mart for both jazz and blues.

Here's a previous thread (with my food suggestions.)
posted by hydrophonic at 7:29 AM on January 29, 2008

Bar: Hopleaf, if you can stomach the crowd. spec80's map room suggestion is excellent too. If you go there, make sure to stop by Margies for some ice cream. And maybe one of the taco joints across the street from Margies too.
posted by rbs at 7:37 AM on January 29, 2008

The first places that jumped into my head are all a little out of the way, but worth it:

I still dream about the fantastic turkey sandwich I had at Lula.

Orange , a brunch spot, has mixed reviews, but I've always enjoyed it (though the "frushi" was underwhelming). The Harrison/South Loop restaurant is generally less crowded than the Lakeview location, where they have a line out the door.

Victory's Banner is another brunch place, vegetarian, with an almost-culty atmosphere ("Even the sugar packets offer an inspiring message!") but man, so good.

I've never been, but when I save up $80-ish and the weather gets a little warmer, I hope to go to Arun's. It sounds wonderful.

You mention your distrust for guidebooks, but my roommate has lived here for over a year and still loves the Not For Tourists Chicago guide. Gapers Block is a good resource too.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:41 AM on January 29, 2008

Reza's restaurant, order the dolmeh for an appetizer and the beef / saffron chicken combo for an entree. You can probably split it and still have leftovers, and its is ..... ooooh.

Then, if its a friday, saturday, or sunday night, go see Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. 30 plays in 60 minutes!

In between, or after, the Hopleaf as mentioned above.
posted by Reverend John at 7:44 AM on January 29, 2008

Oh, also, Bills Blues is a fun place to hear the blues. Or anywhere Little Ed and the Blues Imperials are playing.

For a dog, try Superdawg
posted by Reverend John at 7:48 AM on January 29, 2008

If you're up by the Green Mill, you're also close enough for a cozy little Italian place, La Donna, on Clark in Andersonville. Andersonville in general is also full of upscale shops and delightful bakeries, antique shops and restaurants (I live there but it really is nice).
posted by agregoli at 7:56 AM on January 29, 2008

Last time I was in Chicago, we had a great fine-dining lunch at Blackbird and delicious crispy noodle dishes at Vong's Thai Kitchen.

Dinner at Rick Bayless's haut-Mexican Topolobampo was incredible, but extremely pricey so I wouldn't recommend that unless you are excited enough to drop $100+ per person. Frontera Grill serves a lot of the same food, next door, but you sometimes have to wait over an hour for a table which can be a drag.

Go to Grant Park adjacent to the Loop and look at the (famous but still totally cool) "Bean" sculpture. If you like contemporary art, you might consider the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is pretty close to the Hancock building (and they have a free day on Tuesdays).

We also took the Green El line west to the Garfield Park conservatory. The giant greenhouses full of tropical trees and flowers are wonderful.

Also, do you listen to the NPR show "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me"? They tape in the Chase building in the Loop and we had a blast attending a live show taping.
posted by aught at 7:58 AM on January 29, 2008

The Chicago Diner is all vegan and is quite yummy.
posted by tiburon at 8:18 AM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Second Lou Malnatti's for great pizza. Also, Boston Blackie's, The Billy Goat Tavern (double cheese is the best), and Al's Italian Beef sandwiches.

If you like coffee, at Intelligentsia you can get a $24 cup of Hacienda La Esmeralda made in their Clover machine, which is really just sublime and seems tremendously extravagant, but there are many worse ways to waste $24.

And you have to see this thing in person.

Make sure you get to the Hancock Tower early, otherwise you'll miss the sunset by standing on the line.
posted by Caviar at 8:29 AM on January 29, 2008

posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:04 AM on January 29, 2008

I personally was disappointed by the Field, but would make a special trip back to Chicago to go back to the Science and Industry.
posted by legotech at 9:08 AM on January 29, 2008

Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder (CPOG) has, despite the name, the best salads and bread I've ever had. Locals love it, and it can get pretty crowded as a result, but it's very much worth it. God I miss it.
posted by zazerr at 9:20 AM on January 29, 2008

Fuck Portillo's. Go to Hot Doug's.

If you like free improvisation check out the Hungry Brain on Sunday nights. Really good.
posted by mike_bling at 9:34 AM on January 29, 2008

I came here to say the same thing as mike_bling... Hot Doug's is like heaven but better.
posted by atomly at 9:50 AM on January 29, 2008

I would go to The Art Institute and/or the Shedd Aquarium before bothering with the planetarium, but ymmv.

The Cubs home opener is March 31, but it's probably already sold out. A ride past Wrigley Field would be fun though. The other parks are not worth a look anymore unless you like boring sameness. :-(

Billy Goat's for lunch.

Depending on the weather, you can see 4 states from the Sears Tower Observation Deck. I'd do that before the Hancock, but it is a much longer wait and more expensive.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:39 AM on January 29, 2008

Oh, if he's a big blues fan, he's probably heard about Kingston Mines, but I personally like Legends or B.L.U.E.S. much better.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:41 AM on January 29, 2008

I don't feel like retyping my suggestions, so try here, here, here, here, here, and here, for starters.

Mmm, Hot Doug's. If you go on Friday or Saturday, they've got duck fat fries.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 12:17 PM on January 29, 2008

I'm also a fan of The Map Room, so I'll 3rd that recommendation. Very friendly neighborhood bar with a crazygood selection of beerses.

When I go, I generally make a night of it by hitting the Map Room for a couple hours, then I head over to Club Foot (just a short cab ride). It's like a fieldtrip to great beer with a grungy-hipster chaser. Personally, I'm a huge fan of their old-school pinball machine. I've also wasted a lot of money on the Tetris arcade game that sits next to it. Oy. Very friendly hole in the wall, Club Foot is.
posted by heyho at 1:02 PM on January 29, 2008

I second Orange and suggest Devon Street (Indian/Pakistani neighborhood).
posted by nimsey lou at 5:09 PM on January 29, 2008

For blues? Rosa's Lounge. Down and dirty and outta the way. Not for tourists or posers.

Too Much Light, Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder, Lincoln Park Zoo (one of the last free zoo's!), the Bean, Bistro 110, a ride on the EL, Green Mill, Old Town School of Folk Music, brunch at Tre Kronor, Shedd Aquarium, yes, all yes.

Chicago: Not for Tourists

posted by jeanmari at 7:09 PM on January 29, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the great suggestions. It makes me wish we had longer than 4 days. I know there have been previous posts on this subject, I just know that in larger cities restaurants can open and close rather quickly.

I am shocked that there is a free Zoo in Chicago and i've missed it. I will definitely be making a stop there if the March weather allows. Will also make trips to the Bean, the Map Room, Legends, Jazz record Mart, Garfield Park and will be eating some pizza and Hot Dougs.

I wish we were going on a week when they're taping "Wait Wait".. I'm a fan.

Thanks also for the tip on the Hancock, I had heard there was a place you could get drinks and a view, but didn't know where.

Metafilter to the rescue again!
posted by Breo at 4:41 AM on January 30, 2008

I'm not sure what you are looking at for budget, but if you're 1) a foodie and 2) have some disposable income, i can't recommend Alinea enough. It's probably one of the best restaurants in the world. Easily the best meal I've ever had.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:35 AM on January 30, 2008

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